Tag Archives: positive psychology

For Christ’s Sake, Part 2

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:12 (NRS)

Disciples of Jesus Christ are to “rejoice and be glad” when they are persecuted.  This doesn’t appear to be a “realistic response”, whether living in the first or the twenty-first century, especially for those who live under the influence of Satan and the world (Ep. 6:12).  It is, however, both realistic and reasonable, for those who are in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:12).  Kingdom living does not look like the world—it is radically different!  Believers are to adhere to the truth of God’s Word, living holy and righteous lives, with no expectation of acceptance or support by this fallen world.  It is God who is the rewarder and sustainer of those who are called to His purpose and who find their meaning in Him (Ep. 2:10; Acts 17:28).

The Disciples were to “rejoice and be glad” during persecution because their focus was to be on the future—the kingdom of heaven yet to come.  The Apostle Paul described the trials and persecutions that the Disciples would experience as “light afflictions lasting only for a moment in comparison with eternity.”  And what would be the reward for such suffering?  An exceeding and eternal weight of glory!    J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase expresses Paul’s thought more succinctly:

These little troubles (which are really so transitory) are winning for us a permanent, glorious and solid reward out of all proportion to our pain, For we are looking all the time not at the visible things but at the invisible. The visible things are transitory: it is the invisible things that are really permanent.   2 Cor. 4:17-18

Rather than looking at their external circumstances, the Disciples were re-directed by Jesus to focus on what couldn’t be seen with the “physical eye”—the spiritual reward awaiting them in heaven.

This final beatitude offered comfort to the Disciples by comparing them with another group of highly esteemed, holy men who experienced persecution for righteous living—the Old Testament prophets.  The prophets were commissioned to present “thus says the Lord”; calling for repentance and return to God (Is. 30:15).  The Disciples were called to continue the ministry that Jesus began.  They were to present the gospel of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19) and through the Holy Spirit, men would be drawn to repentance and to the knowledge of Jesus the Christ (2 Pet.3:9).  Both groups faced persecution on earth for “righteousness’ sake” yet they looked forward to their promised reward from God (Dan. 7:18, 22, 27; Matt. 5:12).

Like the Disciples, believers today are to “rejoice and be glad” when faced with persecution.  We are to keep our “eye on the prize”—eternal reward in heaven versus the momentary enticement of this world.   This is a difficult concept for 21st century man to embrace; it is contradictory to a world that demands “instant gratification” and trusts only in what it can see.  To persevere during persecution, believers must continually remind themselves who they are (Rom. 8:17; Col. 3:12), why they are here (Ep. 2:10; Matt. 28:19-20) and where they are ultimately going (1 Pet. 2:11; 2 Cor. 5:1).

As believers, we must accept the reality that if we truly live for Christ, we will suffer persecution. However, we are confident and find comfort in knowing that God is sovereign and has already obtained victory over Satan and the world (Matt. 28:18; Col. 2:15).  God will sustain and deliver us, just as He did for the Prophets and for the Disciples who preceded us (Ps. 27:1).  We rejoice and are glad, for our reward is in heaven.

“Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life,

and may enter in through the gates into the city.”  Revelation 22:14

Good to the Last Byte…

Although the Prophets never witnessed the fulfillment of the Messiah in their life time, they anticipated “future glory” as reward for their faithfulness to God (Is. 35:2).

The Blessedness of Mercy

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”  Matthew 5:7 (NRS)

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”  Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:36-37

Are you merciful?  Are you moved beyond mere pity to the point of action in resolving pain and distress?  This fourth beatitude, moves to an area which requires self-examination as to the type of “kingdom behavior” followers of Christ are expected to exhibit once having experienced the blessedness of mercy.

Mercy, rendered “steadfast love” in some Bible translations, denotes more than just feelings or emotions.  It indicates a passionate need to relieve the situation that is causing pain to others.  Mercy is a concept integral to our understanding of God and His dealings with humankind. In English translations of the Bible, God’s mercy is expressed in phrases such as “to be merciful” (Deut. 21:8), “to have mercy on” (Luke 18:38), or “to show mercy toward” (Ps. 103:11).  Merciful is used to describe a key attribute of God and can be observed in both His giving of grace and in His withholding of punishment.  (Lam. 3:22; Is. 4:8; Dan.9:4; Zech. 10:6)

Who are the merciful?  The one who extends relief from human suffering, pain, and other distress that one may face.  Jesus gave the great New Testament illustration of being merciful in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).  On his journey the Samaritan sees this poor man who has been in the hands of robbers, stops, and goes across the road to where he is lying. The others (the Levite and the Priest) have seen the man but have gone on. They may have felt compassion and pity yet they have not done anything about it. But here is a man who is merciful; he is sorry for the victim, goes across the road, dresses the wounds, takes the man with him and makes provision for him. That is being merciful. It does not mean only feeling pity; it means a great desire and indeed and endeavor, to do something to relieve the situation.

How is mercy recognized in kingdom living?  God’s kingdom exists in a community that displays both forgiveness for the guilty and compassion for the suffering and needy. This is the way God demonstrated His mercy and love for us:  “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5).   Having experienced the mercy of God personally, believers become the means of mercy for others; mercy follows of necessity if we have truly experienced mercy.  In addition, since mercy is part of God’s character and we are His children (Rom. 8:16), it is an expectation that mercy be demonstrated by those who are called by His name.  There is no greater blessing than to share in God’s eternal nature through extending mercy to others.

Who shall obtain mercy?  The blessedness of mercy is not mercy given by others but mercy received from God.  This mercy has already been given to the believer through God’s plan of salvation.  While believers act as channels of mercy to others, they concurrently enjoy unlimited access to mercy that will continue through this life into eternity (Rom. 5:1-2). In receiving God’s mercy, we experience the greatest gift—eternal life lived with the Father and the Son.

Meekness and Kingdom Living

Last week we explored the blessedness in “mourning and comforting”.  Mourning was the sincere sorrow believers experience when they realize the impact of sin in their life.  Comfort develops in knowing that Jesus Christ has delivered us not only from the penalty (death) of sin but also provided the means for ongoing cleansing through confession to our merciful Father (1 John 1:9).  The Beatitudes illustrate the behaviors and resulting “blessedness” that belongs to believers living by “kingdom rules”.  These behaviors were truly “counter culture” for not only those living in the first century but even more so for believers living in the twenty-first.

Meekness (praus) is typically used to describe one whose disposition is gentle or mild. It has also been described as “power under control”.  Jesus described Himself as “gentle and lowly” (Matt. 11:29) yet He was the Creator of the universe.  John Killinger in his classic, Letting God Bless You describes how Jesus life truly depicted “power under control”.

When folks got the idea of starting a movement that would make Him an earthly king, Jesus slipped away to be alone and to pray. While he commended the use of riches to help the poor, he himself never had much in the way of earthly goods-apparently not even a home to call his own or an extra change of raiment. When he was preparing to leave his closest friends, he took a bowl of water and a towel and got down on his knees to wash their feet, insisting that they learn to live through serving one another, not by sitting in the places of honor. Betrayed by a follower who led the police to his prayer spot in Gethsemane, he kissed the follower and bade his friends not to raise their swords. Brought before Pilate and Caiaphas, he saw the uselessness of protest and fell into creative silence. Crucified between two criminals, he spoke kindly to the one with an open heart and forgave the soldiers who had followed orders in carrying out his execution. He didn’t have to be this way. He didn’t have to submit to such mistreatment.

Jesus stated that meekness would result in inheriting the earth.  All through the Bible this was the promise to the people of Israel—a land.  What earth or land was to be inherited? Some scholars believe the land refers to the Promised Land originally promised to the patriarchs of the Old Testaments (Gen. 12:7; 24:7; 26:3; 28:13); others say it is the future Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 20:1-10).  But possessing the land signified much more than a possession; it signified a sense of place, security, an inheritance from God.  These promises will be realized with the second coming of the Messiah when there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). The promise is for believers who are in the New Covenant. And the promise will be fulfilled in a far more glorious way than anyone could imagine. The new creation will not be possessed by the powerful despots, the ruthless tyrants, or the manipulative schemers. It will be possessed by the meek. This is our living hope for today (1 Tim. 4:10; Titus 2:13).

How does one become meek? The answer to this comes from other passages of the Bible that describe how the spiritual life works. Meekness and gentleness and goodness are part of the fruit of the Spirit—they are produced in the Christian by the Holy Spirit. So the direction people should follow to cultivate a spirit of meekness would be to walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:24-25), or be controlled by the Spirit of God so that the qualities of Christ can be produced in and through them.

The Gospel writer’s narratives of Jesus’ life shared what meekness in action looks like. Jesus could have called down angels to take his side in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:53). But, for all of this, he was a meek man, a man after the heart of God, a man from the heart of God. Let us follow Jesus’ glorious example.

Do You Wanna Be Happy? Comforted Mourners

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 (NRS)

The reward in studying the Beatitudes is not simply in acquiring knowledge that will improve our spiritual or moral character but it is an opportunity to gain insight into the nature of God and the extraordinary kingdom God has designed for our lives.  The “blessedness” described in the Beatitudes affirms a quality of life that is already present with more to be fully realized in eternity future.  In exploring the key propositions set forth within the Beatitudes, we discover the blessedness of “kingdom living”.

As a recap, “blessed” literally means “happy”.  As we discovered earlier in this series, this “happiness” is not the same happiness that is offered by the world.  Worldly happiness is dependent on circumstances or material possessions; kingdom happiness is authentic joy that accrues to a believer who shares in the salvation of the kingdom of heaven.  The intent of this study series is to rediscover the fact that the believer’s “happiness” transcends the world’s definition and is anchored to our belief and trust in God (Heb. 6:19).  “Blessed” implies an inner satisfaction and sufficiency that is not dependent on outward circumstances; it is not a function of positive psychology or a product of positive thinking.  It is the reality of living in God’s presence, under God’s protection, and appreciating God’s provision.  This allows believers to be “blessed” even while living in a fallen world.  Today’s beatitude is a prime example of this reality of kingdom living.

Mourning is not the usual activity we associate with happiness.  Why did Jesus choose to use mourning as a topic to include in this beatitude?  Who can know the mind of God? (Rom. 11:34) But we do know that Jesus included it in His teaching on the kingdom of heaven and the Holy Spirit called it to the apostle’s “remembrance” (John 14:26) so that it would be chronicled in Holy Scripture for our reading today.  Therefore, it is important for our learning.  Mourning, usually associated with death or loss, is a universal expression of deep sorrow and grief.  However, like “poor in spirit” has nothing to do with finances, “mourning and comforting”, in this beatitude, has nothing to do with death or loss.  The major belief put forth by Bible scholars is that this mourning is “mourning over sin”.  Paul spoke of this as “godly sorrow” that produces repentance leading to salvation without regret (2 Cor. 7:10).  Much too often believers are burdened by unconfessed sin in their life resulting in emotional and spiritual scaring.  Satan then uses guilt and shame to further enslave our lives.  Once we truly comprehend the impact of sin on our lives and on our relationship with God, there is much reason to mourn.

Where is the blessedness in mourning?  The “happiness” comes in the “comfort” which God provides through His forgiveness and salvation. Mourning our sinful state drives us into the arms of Jesus Christ, Who is the source of our forgiveness and salvation (Is. 40:1, 2).  This occurs initially when we accept Jesus as our Savior and continues daily as we confess new sins that we have committed (Matt. 6:12; 1 John 1:9).  There is comfort in knowing that our sins are forgiven and we are in right relationship with the Lord (Eph. 2:11-13).  Mourning leads to comfort—forgiveness, salvation, and restoration. We thank God for the comfort He has provided us through Jesus Christ. 

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.   (Isaiah 61:3) 

Good to the Last Byte…

Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) gives us an excellent model of “godly sorrow”.  The prodigal mourned his disobedience that led to his “sinful state”:  “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee” (v. 18).  His “godly sorrow” and confession (v. 21) then led to reconciliation with and “comfort” from his father:  “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:  And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry” (vv. 22, 23).   Jesus is the way to the blessed comfort promised to those who mourn over their sins.

Do You Wanna Be Happy? Reality Living in God’s Kingdom

   “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:3 (NRS)

If the television industry is to be remembered for anything, it will be the birth of “reality” programming.  Since its entrance into our entertainment schedule, the number of reality shows and spin offs have grown exponentially compared with other television venues.  When I first read the preview of many reality shows, they read like a bad skit from Saturday Night Live.  But as much as these programs are marketed as “reality”, the truth of the matter is that their plots are carefully staged to insure their continued popularity.  Their view of reality was no more than “staged possibility”.

However, when Jesus spoke of the poor in spirit being blessed with the kingdom of heaven, He was presenting to the disciples a new reality that was both available and possible to those who accepted Him as their Lord and Savior.  Upon accepting Christ’s invitation, believers entered into His kingdom—a new reality for living as citizens of God’s kingdom on earth and heaven.

Pastor Chuck Smith’s video last week informed us that the promises (the blessedness) of the Beatitudes are available to believers only.  In fact, to unbelievers the propositions put forth in the eight (8) declarations, appear illogical and irrational.  This should not surprise us in that the preaching of Christ (and His teachings) is “to them that are perishing foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18) because the world’s wisdom is based on the standards of a world system of a different king—Satan (2 Cor. 4:4).     But the believer’s reality is not based on “the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but that which the Holy Ghost teaches.  The natural man (unbeliever) cannot understand these things because they are spiritually discerned”.  The privilege of the poor in spirit and the possession of the kingdom of heaven are reserved only for those who believe (1 Cor. 2:12-14).

The privilege of being poor in spirit comes in understanding the need for not only salvation but also for a Savior.  It is in recognizing one’s sinfulness, depravity and disobedience, that poverty of spirit is exposed.  We cry out like Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”  (Rom. 7:24)  The reality of our personal brokenness should not drive us to increased darkness but to the life-giving light of Jesus where true forgiveness is possible and spiritual transformation can begin (Col. 1:20-22).

The possession of the kingdom of heaven can only be properly understood in knowing the King.  As believers, our reality acknowledges that our Lord and King is Jesus Christ.   In Him, we live and move and have our meaning in Him (Acts 17:28).  God is transcendent (beyond or above the range of human experience) and omniscient (everywhere all the time); we live continually in His presence.  While Jesus reigns exalted with God in heavenly places (Ep. 1:20), His rule still extends to us as we physically live in this fallen world.   As subjects of God’s kingdom, we are to live faithfully for Him and for the purpose He has determined for our lives (Ep. 2:10).   It is this reality that incents us to live holy and soberly within His kingdom (Titus 2:12).  Our allegiance and loyalty is to our king, Jesus Christ.

Why then are believers blessed or happy?  First, because they know their sins have been forgiven (Ep. 1:7).  They no longer need to hide in the shame and the fear of their past lives.  Jesus has made it possible for them to become part of the citizenship of heaven (1 Pet. 2:9).  This position comes with both privilege and power that exceed any temporary position we might hold on earth.  Second, believers not only enjoy benefits as citizens of God’s kingdom now but look forward to even more blessings in eternity (Ep. 2:12, 18,19).   Finally, the believer’s position in God’s kingdom can never be withdrawn or loss.  Nothing can separate them from God’s presence; their present and future are secure because it has been secured by the blood of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:18).

The reality of living in God’s kingdom results in peace that passes all understanding, indescribable joy, and love that covers a multitude of sins and offenses.  In the Beatitudes, Matthew captures only a sampling of the extraordinary gifts that awaits those who believe and trust in Jesus Christ.

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

Who, when he had found one pearl of great price,

went and sold all that he had, and bought it.  Matthew 13:45-46

Do You Wanna Be Happy? Blessedness

“Blessed…” Matthew 5:2 (NRS)

The Beatitudes are found in both Matthew (5:1-12) and Luke (6:20-26).  In Matthew, they are placed thoughtfully before the Sermon on the Mount, the first and longest message of Jesus that we have in the gospel.  The Beatitudes are different to study than other biblical narratives; each saying is proverb-like:  cryptic, precise and full of meaning.  Contrary to popular belief, the Beatitudes were not initially shared with the masses, as presented to us in bible illustrations and movie productions.   Jesus taught them exclusively to His disciples. Luke makes this distinction clear:  “Then He (Jesus) lifted up His eyes toward the disciples and said…” (Luke 6:20).  The disciples as new citizens of “kingdom of heaven” would need to understand the uniqueness of this kingdom and their role in proclaiming the arrival of its King.  In this initial teaching by Jesus, the Disciples would be the first to be “blessed.”

Blessed or makarios {mak-ar’-ee-os} is translated as “happy.” But “happy” doesn’t seem to capture all that is intended in the Beatitudes because modern usage of this word tends to devalue its true meaning. We use the word happy to describe everything from getting a new car to finding a parking space at the mall.   “Blessed” or happy in this text is an exclamation of the inner joy and peace that comes with being right with God.  Happiness may indeed be a part of it, but it is a happiness that transcends what happens in the world around us—a happiness that comes to the soul from being favored by God. That is why one can feel blessed even during intense persecution (Matt. 5:10; 1 Pet. 3:14).

The Beatitudes are more than characteristics of what believers are to strive for in their spiritual walk.  The qualities outlined in the Beatitudes give a picture of the character of the true people of God who are already part of His kingdom and who have the full blessings of the kingdom—now and in the future (1 John 3:2).  Jesus’ declaration of “blessed” to the disciples is a “pledge of divine reward” for the inner spiritual character of the righteous.  When we accept Christ as our Savior, we become part of the “blessed”.  In Christ we were rescued from the power of darkness and spiritually “transferred” into the kingdom of heaven (Col. 1:12-14).  As we grow in Christ[1], we can better understand and embrace the “blessings” described in the Beatitudes.   God knew the true way to “happiness” and from the foundation of the world prepared the way for us to be “blessed” (Ep. 1:4).

Good to the Last Byte…

Last week we ended our study on the pursuit of happiness by offering a surer path to well-being and contentment that men seek.  That offer was and will always be Jesus the Christ.  It would be Jesus the Christ who would save man from sin, reconcile man to God, and make it possible for men to live in peace.  It is in Christ’s arrival that “eternal blessedness” would replace “temporary happiness.”

[1]  We grow in Christ or spiritual maturity through practicing the disciplines of prayer, fasting, reading the Bible and fellowship with other believers.  Spiritual maturity also requires relinquishing control of our lives to the leading and guidance of Holy Spirit.

Do You Wanna Be Happy? The Pursuit of Happiness

“Then He (Jesus) began to speak, and taught them.” Matthew 5:2 (NRS)

This short question was introduced to me through the latest song by the gospel extraordinaire, Kirk Franklin.  I think Brother Kirk’s popularity comes from being able to capture in his songs the key questions people may ask as they live out this Christian walk.  In this particular song, there is ongoing dialog with an individual who appears to be frustrated with life after unsuccessful attempts to find happiness.  Exasperated with their situation, they sadly cry out, “I just wanna be happy.”

Happiness is defined as a state of well-being and contentment.  Happiness is truly a function of one’s personal perception, circumstance, and desire.  For the person who is lonely, happiness may be experiencing true friendship and community.  For the individual who feels powerless, happiness may be wealth and influence.  Regardless of the need behind the pursuit of happiness, the quest to find it has been and continues to be man’s greatest quest.  “We just wanna be happy!”

During the mid-20th century, the pursuit of happiness was found in the discovery of self.  “Self” became the surrogate for happiness—self-gratification, self-satisfaction, self-actualization.  I admit my part as a Baby Boomer in opening the door to our current fixation on “if it feels good do it” and “you can have it all”.  Our pursuit of personal happiness (versus God) did much to accelerate secularism, hedonism, and materialism.  “Sorry, we just wanted to be happy!”

With the dawn of the 21st century, man has now “turned his ear” (2 Tim. 4:4) to the sciences to help him find happiness.   One method currently under examination is positive psychology which is the study of happiness. Psychology has traditionally focused on dysfunction—people with mental illness or other psychological problems—and how to treat it. Positive psychology, in contrast, is a relatively new field that examines how ordinary people can become happier and more fulfilled.  “Yes Dr. Phil, we wanna be happy!”

In examining the different paths to happiness, there is one obvious way that is missing.  This way satisfies the earlier description given for happiness—the state of well-being and contentment.  That way is Jesus Christ—He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).  Well-being includes security, safety, and health.  In Psalm 18:2, David describes the source of his well-being as he is delivered from King Saul and his enemies:  “The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”  Contentment encompasses serenity, satisfaction, and gladness.  The Apostle Paul exchanged his earthly power and position for great suffering and pain (2 Cor. 11:23-27) yet he proudly boasted in Phil. 4:11-13 (NRS):  “I have learned to be content with whatever I have.  I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  That sounds like happiness to me.

During the month of May, we will explore happiness from Jesus’ teaching of the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12).   We will be providing special resources and teaching materials that will allow you to dig deep into what true happiness looks like from Jesus perspective. Join us next week as we begin our series, “Do You Wanna Be Happy?”

Good to the Last Byte…

Based on the world’s standard for happiness, Solomon, the greatest kings in the history of Israel, should have been the poster child for happiness.  He had it all—riches, power, and fame.  Yet he was not happy.  His discontent led to the writing of the book of Ecclesiastes, in which he called all that he pursued as “vanity” (hebel) which is interpreted as “meaningless”.  “Poor Solomon, he had it all yet he still wanted to be happy!”